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Friday Cat Blogging – 25 April 2014

Mother Jones

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If Vermeer painted cats, perhaps this is what a Vermeer cat would look like. All Domino needs is a pearl earring and a slightly more beguiling expression on her furry mug. Unfortunately, she’s sporting her all-too-common disdain for the stupid black box that I keep pointing in her direction while she’s trying to take a nice, peaceful nap.

And now for one last fundraising pitch. We’re getting close to the $100,000 goal for our investigative reporting fundraiser, and we have a few days left to get there. So how about a wee donation? If you value our reporting—or just want me to leave Domino alone so she can get her beauty rest—please donate $5 to the Mother Jones Investigative Fund. If you can afford it, make it $10. We’ll put it to good use. Here’s how to make a contribution:

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Friday Cat Blogging – 25 April 2014

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Elizabeth Warren to Congress: Grandma "Will Be Left to Starve" If We Cut Social Security

Mother Jones

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On Monday afternoon, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) delivered a speech on the Senate floor slamming those on Capitol Hill who want to cut Social Security in order to balance the budget, and calling on Congress to expand the program instead.

“This is about our values,” the senator said, “and our values tell us that we don’t build a future by first deciding who among our most vulnerable will be left to starve.”

Lawmakers have to come to an agreement to fund the government by mid-January, and some are floating Social Security cuts as a bargaining chip in a possible budget deal. Even President Barack Obama’s last budget proposal contained cuts to the program.

Warren says slashing retirement benefits for elderly Americans is an absurd idea. Warren noted that Social Security payments are already stingy, averaging about $1,250 a month. Plus, an increasing number of Americans can no longer count on healthy pensions through their job. Two decades ago, 35 percent of jobs in the private sector offered workers a traditional pension that provided monthly payments retirees could rely on. Today, that number is only 18 percent. Some 44 million workers get no retirement help from their employers.

Because of the growing “retirement crisis” in America, Warren argued, “we should be talking about expanding Social Security benefits—not cutting them.” She noted that several senators, including Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), have been pushing for just that.

Seniors are not going to get more generous retirement benefits as long as the GOP-dominated House opposes the idea. But most Democrats have said they won’t agree to entitlement cuts without new revenues, and Republicans refuse to raise revenues, so real cuts are unlikely, too. Rather than hashing out a grand bargain that includes cuts to the safety net, Congress will probably kick the can down the road, and come to another modest, last-minute, short-term budget accord early next year.

But Warren’s speech was about more than staving off immediate cuts to retirement benefits. It was yet another move to cement her role as Congress’ star defender of the middle class. Warren has said she will not run for president in 2016. But this is one of many issues on which she has staked out a position to the left of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is widely expected to run. In a speech at Colgate University last month, Clinton did not rule out the idea of limited cuts to entitlement programs as a means to reaching a budget deal.

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Elizabeth Warren to Congress: Grandma "Will Be Left to Starve" If We Cut Social Security

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Obama Official May Run Against Florida’s Anti-Obamacare AG

Mother Jones

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Florida attorney general Pam Bondi has been a lightning rod in a state that’s got quite a few of them. A tea party favorite and occasional Fox News commentator, Bondi played the lead role in Florida’s attack on the Affordable Care Act. Bondi’s office filed suit, later joined by other states, to challenge the law’s constitutionality. While the suit failed to derail the entire law, Bondi was wildly successful in helping prevent millions of poor people from getting health insurance through an expansion of Medicaid provided in the law. (The Supreme Court ruled that the Medicaid expansion could not be forced on the states and only expanded voluntarily. Florida and 12 other states then rejected it.)

On that stellar record, Bondi has been campaigning hard for reelection, even going so far as to postpone an execution so she could attend a fundraiser last month. Democrats would clearly love to kick her out of office along with Republican governor Rick Scott, who’s facing a tough race next year. Polls are scarce as Democrats have yet to identify a challenger for the AG job (though Bondi seems to come out ahead in a TMZ “Who’d You Rather?” poll matching her up against California AG Kamala Harris, dubbed the “best looking attorney general in the country” by President Obama.) But one person thought to be lining up against Bondi is George Sheldon, currently the Acting Assistant Secretary for Children and Families at the US Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced last week that Sheldon would be stepping down and returning to Florida this month, and he has reportedly been feeling out donors and state politicos about the prospect of a Bondi challenge. TMZ is not likely to feature Sheldon in any “who’s hotter” polls, but he knows Florida politics. Sheldon began his career in the state legislature and later served as deputy attorney general and head of the state’s department of children and families. At HHS, he’s been involved in campaigns to combat human trafficking and pushed to limit the use of psychotropic drugs on juveniles in foster care. Unfortunately, none of this is particularly sexy, and Sheldon himself would make a very mild-mannered foil to Bondi’s firebrand.

His “hot” problem may extend to fundraising. Sheldon has made two previous efforts at winning statewide office, including a run for attorney general in 2002 in which he finished third in the Democratic primary. His tenure in the Obama administration may raise his profile a bit this time around, but given his own role in defending Obamacare, that may not be much of a credential with Florida’s conservative voters.

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Obama Official May Run Against Florida’s Anti-Obamacare AG

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Climate Scientist Prevails in First Round of Defamation Suit Against Conservative Bloggers

Mother Jones

A judge in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia is allowing a defamation suit that climate scientist Michael Mann filed against conservative commentators to move forward.

Last year, Mann sued the National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute over blog posts accusing him of lying about climate science. The NRO post called his research “fraudulent,” and the CEI post accused him of “scientific misconduct.” NRO also twice quoted another blogger who referred to Mann as “the Jerry Sandusky of climate science,” comparing him to the Pennsylvania State University football coach convicted of child molestation last year.

Blue Marble readers have certainly heard Mann’s story before. The Penn State climate scientist has been the subject of a relentless assault from climate skeptics over the years, largely tracing back to a chart of global temperature records that he coauthored that showed a sharp uptick in the industrial era.

The judge issued two decisions on July 19 allowing Mann’s suits to go forward. The plaintiffs had each filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that the First Amendment protects their right to say that sort of stuff online. But the judge didn’t agree. Here’s a key part of the decision on the CEI suit (via Climate Science Watch) in which the judge asserts that the blogger was not just stating opinions, but that he was making factual claims about Mann’s work that could be proven false:

Defendants argue that the accusation that Plaintiff’s work is fraudulent may not necessarily be taken as based in fact because the writers for the publication are tasked with and posed to view work critically and interpose (brutally) honest commentary. In this case, however, the evidence before the Court, at this stage, demonstrates something more and different than honest or even brutally honest commentary.

The judge continued:

Plaintiff has been investigated several times and his work has been found to be accurate. In fact, some of these investigations have been due to the accusations made by the CEI Defendants. It follows that if anyone should be aware of the accuracy (or findings that the work of Plaintiff is sound), it would be the CEI Defendants. Thus, it is fair to say that the CEI Defendants continue to criticize Plaintiff due to a reckless disregard for truth. Criticism of Plaintiff’s work may be fair and he and his work may be put to the test. Where, however the CEI Defendants consistently claim that Plaintiff’s work is inaccurate (despite being proven as accurate) then there is a strong probability that the CEI Defendants disregarded the falsity of their statements and did so with reckless disregard.

The full National Review ruling is here and the CEI ruling here. The parties are scheduled to be back in court on September 27.

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Climate Scientist Prevails in First Round of Defamation Suit Against Conservative Bloggers

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Wee the People: A Filibuster Pee Break Flowchart

Mother Jones

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It’s on everyone’s minds every time a legislator heroically stands up to speak for hours on end for one reason or another: Just where do they go when they have to, you know, go? It turns out each politician has his or her own strategy. Some, like segregationist Sen. Strom Thurmond, spent days prepping to hold the floor, even taking steam baths to dehydrate themselves. Others have tried to maintain a modicum of discretion, surrounding themselves with sheets and answering nature’s call right there in the chamber. But take a minute and put yourself in Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis’ shoes—how would you fare if you had to hold the floor and hold it in?

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Wee the People: A Filibuster Pee Break Flowchart

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The Private Intelligence Boom, By the Numbers

Mother Jones

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Edward Snowden revealed to the world the startling breadth of the National Security Agency’s surveillance efforts, but his story also highlighted another facet of today’s intelligence world: the increasingly privatized national security sector, in which a high-school dropout could bring in six figures while gaining access to state secrets. Over the last decade, firms like Booz Allen Hamilton, where Snowden worked for three months, have gobbled up nearly sixty cents out of every dollar the government spends on intelligence. A majority of top-secret security clearances now go to private contractors who provide services to the government at stepped up rates.

“I like to call Booz Allen the shadow intelligence community,” Joan Dempsey, a vice president at the firm, said in 2004, as captured in Tim Shorrock’s book, Spies for Hire. No kidding. Here’s a look at our mushrooming intelligence contracting sector:


12,000: Number of Booz Allen Hamilton employees with top-secret clearances.

483,263: Number of contractors with top-secret clearances.

1.4 million: Number of public and private employees, total, with top-secret security clearances, as of FY 2012.

7th: Where employees with top-secret clearances would rank, by population, if they were a single American city.

1: Occupations, out of 35 analyzed by the Project On Government Oversight, in which privatization yielded statistically significant savings—groundskeepers.

4.4 million: Number of private contractors serving the federal government in 1999.

7.6 million: Number of private contractors serving the federal government 2005.

1.8 million: Number of federal civil servants in 1999.

1.8 million: Number of federal civil servants in 2005.

70: Percentage of classified intelligence budget that goes to private contracts (as of 2007).

90: Percentage of intelligence contracts that are classified.

1,931: Number of private firms working on counter-terrorism, intelligence, or homeland security, according to the Washington Post.

$1.3 billion: Booz Allen Hamilton’s revenue from intelligence work during its most recent fiscal year, according to the New York Times.

23: Percentage of the firm’s overall revenue.

98: Percentage of the firm’s work that focuses on government contracts

Charts by Jaeah Lee

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The Private Intelligence Boom, By the Numbers

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20 Ways to Clean with Baking Soda

Shawn P.


12 Surprising Sources of Hidden Sugar

12 minutes ago

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20 Ways to Clean with Baking Soda

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Depressing Headline of the Day

Mother Jones

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Here it is:

Here’s an excerpt from the Stars and Stripes story:

The chief of the US Air Force’s sexual assault prevention and response branch was arrested this weekend and charged with sexual battery.

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, 41, of Arlington, Va., was arrested Sunday morning, according to the Arlington police. He’s accused of approaching a woman in a parking lot and grabbing her breasts and buttocks, according to the crime report. He has been removed from his position, an Air Force spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity.

Krusinski heads up the Air Force’s sexual assault prevention and response branch, an Air Force spokeswoman confirmed.

Read the whole thing here.

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Depressing Headline of the Day

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Venture capitalists are funding green food innovation

Venture capitalists are funding green food innovation

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Big corporations are feeding Americans a diet of crap, but a swarm of start-ups is chewing away at their market dominance.

The New York Times brought us the news this week that venture capitalists — normally the lifeblood of innovation in the technology and cleantech sectors — are increasingly providing the financial fodder for food-related start-ups. The injections of cash could be helping to fertilize a green agro-culinary revolution.

From the Times article:

In some cases, the goal is to connect restaurants with food purveyors, or to create on-demand delivery services from local farms, or ready-to-cook dinner kits. In others, the goal is to invent new foods, like creating cheese, meat and egg substitutes from plants. Since this is Silicon Valley money, though, the ultimate goal is often nothing short of grand: transforming the food industry.

“Part of the reason you’re seeing all these V.C.’s get interested in this is the food industry is not only is it massive, but like the energy industry, it is terribly broken in terms of its impact on the environment, health, animals,” said Josh Tetrick, founder and chief executive of Hampton Creek Foods, a start-up making egg alternatives.

Some investors say food-related start-ups fit into their sustainability portfolios, alongside solar energy or electric cars, because they aim to reduce the toll on the environment of producing animal products. For others, they fit alongside health investments like fitness devices and heart rate monitoring apps. Still others are eager to tackle a real-world problem, instead of building virtual farming games or figuring out ways to get people to click on ads.

“There are pretty significant environmental consequences and health issues associated with sodium or high-fructose corn syrup or eating too much red meat,” said Samir Kaul, a partner at Khosla Ventures, which has invested in a half-dozen food start-ups. “I wouldn’t bet my money that Cargill or ConAgra are going to innovate here. I think it’s going to take start-ups to do that.”

The article cites research by CB Insights, a venture capital database. From CB Insights’ website:

Whether it’s finding a place to eat, sharing recommendations on your favorite dishes or ordering food online, investors have been hungry (sorry for the terrible pun) to invest in web and mobile-based food applications and platforms — aka food tech. Over the last year, almost $350 million has been invested in Food Tech and deal activity to the burgeoning sector grew over 37% vs the prior year. …

In general, international deal activity was very strong as local players and investors see opportunities in replicating some of the concepts seen, tested and validated in the US. Within the US, Silicon Valley has the largest share of deals at 17.78%, followed by NY at 16.67% and rounded out by Southern California at 7.78%.

Here’s hoping the smart money keeps flowing for smart, green foodie entrepreneurs.

John Upton is a science aficionado and green news junkie who


, posts articles to


, and

blogs about ecology

. He welcomes reader questions, tips, and incoherent rants:


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Venture capitalists are funding green food innovation

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This Libertarian Presidential Hopeful Wants Your Bitcoin Donations

Mother Jones

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Darryl W. Perry says he’s running for president in 2016 as a libertarian, and he’s pledging to be the first White House hopeful to accept Bitcoin, the online currency currently en vogue in tech and libertarian circles.

Bitcoin appeals to libertarians who are skeptical of the Federal Reserve and other central banking institutions. As Jim Harper, the director of information policy studies at the Cato Institute, recently told Mother Jones, “There are types like me, libertarian gold-buggish folks,” for whom “inflation is a constant worry” and who “see the cryptography in Bitcoin as insulation against inflation.” The US Libertarian Party accepts Bitcoin donations on its website, and the Libertarian Party of Canada joined the Bitcoin bandwagon in March.

Perry laid out his decision to accept Bitcoin in a recent open letter to the Federal Election Commission, the nation’s beleaguered elections watchdog. The Darryl W. Perry for President campaign, he said, will not accept any donations “in currencies recognized by the federal legal tender laws.” The only currencies going into Perry’s campaign war chest are Bitcoin, Litecoin (another online currency), and precious metals. “I am attempting to put into practice a belief that I hold that we should get rid of the Federal Reserve, which is a central bank,” he recently explained. “And unlike some who want to get rid of the Fed, I don’t want the government stepping in to fill the void.”

Believe it or not, refusing to accept actual money may not be Perry’s biggest obstacle to running for president. Unlike the Libertarian Party, Perry disavows the very existence of the FEC and denies its authority to regulate campaigns. Perry says he will not file any paperwork with the commission establishing his presidential campaign, nor will he disclose whom his bitcoin/litecoin/gold contributors are or how he spends their money. He ends his letter by writing, “I intend this to be the last communication I have with this commission as part of my campaign.”

How serious is Perry’s candidacy? His website is, well, far from inspiring, and there’s one brief mention of him on the US Libertarian Party’s website. But he’s nonetheless one of the early Bitcoin adopters in politics, following candidates in North Dakota, Vermont, and New Hampshire who decided to accept the online currency. Provided Bitcoin doesn’t bottom out in the months or years ahead—the price of a Bitcoin is vulnerable to wild swings, evidenced by a 60-percent drop a few weeks ago, quickly shedding $115 in value—I wouldn’t be surprised to see more libertarian types embrace Bitcoin donations.

Therein lies a challenge: Explaining Bitcoin to the average voter is hard enough. If the FEC ever tried to regulate it, well, good luck.

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This Libertarian Presidential Hopeful Wants Your Bitcoin Donations

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